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February 22, 2017

Catholic faith in Umuguma clocks 100 …Early missionaries extolled

It was glitz and excitement all the way at Umuguma Owerri West LGA when the Catholic community, their friends and well-wishers rallied in their colorful outfit at St. Michael’s Catholic Church to bring to climax the long awaited centenary anniversary of their christian faith, February 1, 2017.

The epic event which featured sacrament of confirmation, blessing of new tabernacle and grotto among other things started with a Eucharistic celebration. His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri was the chief celebrant, and he was at the Mass with retinue of other priests, including indigenous and former parish priests.

Introducing the Mass, Archbishop Obinna said it was with ”great joy and thankful heart that we gather to celebrate what was instituted by those who came before us”. He urged the catholic community to remain grateful that God availed them with the opportunity of witnessing the ”landmark of 100 years since a Holy Mass was first celebrated” in their land. This was even as he lauded the missionary zeal of the white men in whose missionary efforts the good news of Christ was made known in Igbo land.

While delivering the homily shortly after ascertaining the preparedness of the candidates of confirmation, the Catholic archbishop  noted with joy that the coming of the gospel succeeded in dispelling the darkness of sin that hitherto engulfed the pagan world. He said ”Christ has united all in one family, and as baptized sons and daughters of God, we’ve been called to embrace the new way of life which is Christ-centered”. He therefore charged the congregated faithful to be wary of whatever may jeopardize their faith especially the Osu, Ume, Diala and Ohu belief.

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Speaking particularly, to the 131 candidates of confirmation, Most Rev. Obinna admonished them on the need to remain true children of God. He drew their attention to the significance of the sacrament saying, the ”value of your baptism and confirmation is for you to be witnesses of Christ; so let your lifestyles and conducts continue to reflect in this direction”, the prelate who was at pains over the moral decadence prevalent among the youths cautioned, and concluded by advising them that daily rosary recitation; regular communion and confession would always stand out as guide to saintly life.

”… Like the biblical mustard seed which today has grown into a parish church, we owe this to the great courage of the early Christians of this town who were persecuted for their religious belief…”

This heartwarming caveat formed part of the historic exegesis submitted at the event by the Centenary Planning Committee. In the record, the committee mentioned the following names: Stephen Nwachukwu Oparaeke, James Kamalu Obi, Ben Ohanumma Osu, Njoku Ogbuoge, Anwuka Akumanu and Nnadi Ogu as among those who refused heeding to the tyrannical commands of Chief Ugorji Agbaraukwu – the then Umuguma warrant chief. At this time, the people’s new found faith introduced by the CMS (Anglican) missionaries who arrived the town in 1912 was facing serious infringement from the despotic orders of their warrant chief. But for them to be liberated, something spectacular was in dire need. Then came solace with the pleasing news of Rev. Fr. D. Walsh – a different bred  of missionary at Emekuku. In response to their invitation, the Irish priest in company of his Curate, Rev. Fr. J. O’Conner visited Umuguma, thence; the remote town became a new found mission for the Catholic missionaries.

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As providence would have it, this historic visit according to the committee snowballed in July 1916 when Fr. O’Conner officially celebrated first Holy Mass in Umuguma land in utter awe and relief of the community members. The venue they said was near the present Orieukwu market square. A land selflessly donated by an indigene, Mr. Ekeobi.

Expressing feelings of gratitude, the committee recalled that it was not until January 30, 1997 that the centenary Church gained its parish status, with Rev. Fr. Jude E. Ike as pioneer parish priest. Due to pastoral demands of the modern era, the Church of St. Michael Umuguma though may have presently found a new abode, but the heroic faith and gesture displayed by Mr. Ekeobi and co would continue to be accorded a status similar dignifying to that of the saints.

As the faithful continue to bask in the euphoria of their 100 years of catholicism, the committee was happy over the community’s rich in priestly/religious vocations. This included Rev. Fr. Ray Nzereogu, Director/Editor of Assumpta Press, publisher of The Leader newspaper. In their separate brief chats, while the committee through its chairman, Hon. Julius Mere thanked their guests and fellow parishioners for making the historic event memorable, Rev. Fr. Paschal Onyeneke, the new parish priest who was elated for being part of the success story, submitted that the week-long event would be rounded off Feb 5 (Last Sunday) with a thanksgiving Mass.



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